La Liga Preview: Barcelona v Elche
By Football News
Lionel Messi could make his return from injury when La Liga leaders Barcelona kick off 2014 with a home game against Elche.
Four-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi has not played for almost two months after sustaining a hamstring injury in a 4-1 win at Real Betis on November 10.
But the Argentine superstar returned to training this week and will hope to play some part on Sunday, particularly with a huge game against second-placed Atletico Madrid to come next weekend.
Barcelona are also likely to welcome back goalkeeper Victor Valdes for the visit of Elche.
Valdes, who is set to leave the club at the end of the season, is available again following his recovery from a calf problem and is in line to replace Jose Manuel Pinto.
However, Sergio Busquets is banned after picking up his fifth booking of the season in the 5-2 win at Getafe prior to Spain's mid-season break.
That victory represented Barcelona's fifth in succession across all competitions and the Catalan club have dropped only five points in Liga this season.
In contrast, Elche have won just four league games and begin the new year two points above the relegation zone in 14th.
Elche are missing two players - Damian Suarez and Coro - through suspension and will be huge underdogs to take anything from Camp Nou in their first top-flight season since 1989.
Fran Escriba's men have lost four of their previous five matches and boast only one victory in 10 - a 2-1 triumph over Valencia on November 24.
Barcelona head into Sunday's match having won a remarkable 23 Liga games in succession on home soil, firing in 80 goals in the process.
Addressing the media on Friday, Escriba acknowledged his side face the stiffest of challenges, but called for a positive approach.
"We have to be brave and try to find the goal because it is difficult to think that they (Barcelona) will not score," he said.